All My QBs: Kleinsasser has seen several vets come and go

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2011 - 10:19 PM

From Cunningham to McNabb, the 13-year tight end bridges the gap.

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The Vikings’ Jim Kleinsasser played with Donovan McNabb in the 1999 Senior Bowl. “I was a tight end from North Dakota,” he said. “I’m sure I made a big impression on him.”

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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MANKATO - Jim Kleinsasser is entering his 13th season as a tight end and/or fullback with the Vikings. That gives him four years of seniority over defensive tackle Kevin Williams, next on the roster when it comes to tenure in Minnesota.

"This camp really has made it clear how long it's been," Kleinsasser said. "We've had the big turnover since last season, and now with the extra players in camp ... I don't know even half the guys in the locker room.

"I'll see a face that looks familiar, maybe nod toward him, and he'll say, 'We met when I was in camp a couple of years ago.' "

Kleinsasser has reached a point in his career when he's as old as the quarterbacks he's playing with.

Almost.

Donovan McNabb, the newest veteran quarterback brought in to start, will turn 35 on Nov. 25. Kleinsasser will reach that birthday two months later, on Jan. 31.

"Donovan and I played together in the Senior Bowl," Kleinsasser said.

So you know him then?

"I was a tight end from North Dakota," Kleinsasser said. "I'm sure I made a big impression on him."

Kleinsasser was taken in the second round of the 1999 NFL draft by Dennis Green. The large young man joined a team with a pair of veteran quarterbacks: Randall Cunningham, coming off a Player of the Year season in 1998, and Jeff George, signed in April 1999, presumably to serve as Cunningham's backup.

Late Thursday afternoon, McNabb went through his first practice with the Vikings. Later, Kleinsasser was asked to summarize the veteran quarterbacks who have been starters during his time with the Vikings.

Randall Cunningham: "He was a pure athlete, even at his age [36 in 1999]. He was quiet ... a changed man from his days in Philadelphia, from what I heard. He was a nice guy. I was a rookie and he treated me great. It was that way with the whole team."

Cunningham was benched at halftime of the sixth game at Detroit and George took over for the rest of the season.

Jeff George: "That guy had an arm. He had a reputation for arrogance, but from what I saw, it was more a great confidence. He believed that he could make any throw, any time, and he was probably right.

"The ball came in so hard when he threw it. He almost broke a couple of my fingers. There was a play when I was covered, so George threw the ball away low. I dived and tried to get my hands under the ball. That was a mistake.

"No matter what people heard, Jeff was a good teammate."

Brad Johnson: "It was his second time in Minnesota when I was a teammate and his arm wasn't too strong. He made up for that by knowing where to put the ball."

Johnson led the Vikings on a six-game winning streak in 2005 after he replaced injured Daunte Culpepper.

"It sounds corny, but Brad was able to come into the huddle and take charge. He would call a play and everyone knew, if they executed, Brad was going to get the ball to the right spot."

Gus Frerotte: "Gus was a lot like Brad. He'd been in the league. He brought an attitude into the huddle that we were going to make plays. He had a big arm. Guys like that have a tendency to take a few chances.

"He threw a few interceptions, but we also threw a lot of touchdown passes when Gus was here."

Brett Favre: Kleinsasser smiled widely and said "great guy" at the mention of Favre's name.

"First time I had a chance to talk to him, I said, 'I've hated you all my life, growing up as a Viking fan and then as a Viking.' He almost liked hearing that -- what he had meant to the Packers-Vikings rivalry.

"Daunte had a season in '04 that would've been an MVP season, if not for Peyton Manning's touchdown record, but Brett in '09 ... that's the best I've ever seen a quarterback play.

"You wondered what Favre had left when he came here. And then he started firing the ball and, when practice was over, your hands would hurt. And there was the answer: He had plenty left."

Donovan McNabb: "He's only been here a few days, and he's had one practice, but he's another quarterback who has done enough to have great confidence in himself. He's going to be another quarterback you believe in when he comes in the huddle."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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